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Watering Down Teacher Evaluations

Urban teachers union contracts commonly include evaluation systems that verge on meaninglessness. The New Teacher Project (TNTP) documented in its analysis of Chicago’s school district (sadly typical among urban districts when it comes to grading teachers) that 56 percent of principals admit to inflating teacher ratings. The reasons why are striking, and each can be traced back to the union contract:

Disturbingly, TNTP found that “between 2003 and 2006, only nine teachers [out of the district’s nearly 25,000] received two or more ‘unsatisfactory’ ratings and none was dismissed.”

In Washington, D.C., you can see just how hard teachers unions are fighting against increased accountability. After signing a “historic” agreement that traded higher pay for a modest increase in accountability, the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) quickly worked to neuter the evaluation system introduced to implement that accountability. When schools chancellor Michelle Rhee set out to fire 241 teachers who had been deemed “ineffective” by the IMPACT evaluation tool, the teachers union immediately threatened to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of the teachers who were let go. In the aftermath, the American Federation of Teachers spent more than a million dollars to defeat Rhee’s boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, and install a candidate who is far less committed to real education reform.

In Los Angeles, the teachers union was horrified to discover that the Los Angeles Times had compiled a “value-added” analysis of the city’s teachers. Simply put, a value-added analysis looks at the performance of individual students on a year-to-year basis and then judges how much better or worse that student performs on year-end examinations. Doing this controls for the most unpredictable variable of all in teacher evaluations: The students in the classroom. How did teachers unions respond? The head of United Teachers Los Angeles called for a boycott of the newspaper; union members picketed the Times’s headquarters; and American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten lambasted the publication of the results as an invasion of privacy.

Similarly, in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers has sued to stop the public release of value-added evaluations of teachers in that city. Though the data has not yet been used to determine pay or promotions, union officials don’t want the public getting hold of it. The state appeals court ruled unanimously against the teachers union, writing that the “reports concern information of a type that is of compelling interest to the public, namely, the proficiency of public employees in the performance of their job duties.”